After our usual morning routine, which we have all gotten accustomed to, our first class was on the political system and economic development in China. Our lecturer went over in great detail the political hierarchy in China. Although China has multiple political parties, the Communist Party is the the most powerful party that controls politics in China. Our students had a never-ending list of questions for the lecturer since we are from a different political system in the U.S. and we know so little about the Chinese political system. The lecturer also discussed the historical economic development of China. In the last two decades, China has had an unprecedented economic growth rate of over 9% per year. China’s staggering growth rate has brought millions out of poverty and also added millions to the largest middle class in the world. Yet, disparities between urban and rural areas prevail. Our lecturer cautioned us not to associate Beijing and other cities with all of China. To gain a full and true understanding of China, we must also explore the country side.
Tiananmen Square is the popular political center of Beijing that contains the Great Hall of the People (Chinese parliament), the Forbidden City, and Chairman Mao Zedong’s (Father of modern China) mausoleum. Tiananmen Square was also the location of the popular student uprising against the Chinese government in 1989 that was violently suppressed by Chinese troops. As we walked through the massive square, you could sense the politics in China. Several massive red flags of China waved high up in the square while police patrolled the area. On one end was a huge portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong and at the opposite end was his monolithic mausoleum. We kept walking and neared the entrance to the outer wall of the Forbidden City.
Built in 1406, the Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty. It is located in the center of Beijing and now houses the Palace Museum. For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of the Chinese government. The palace complex consists of 980 buildings covering 180 acres. We visited several of the buildings that were meticulously maintained to preserve their original splendor. Unlike other tourist destinations, the Forbidden City had a large number of young students visiting. As usual, we had numerous requests to have our pictures taken. Although some people sneakingly snapped our pictures from behind, many people were brave enough to simply approach us from the front and click away as they giggled. The celebrity feel for our students continued, but how long will it take before our patience wears out?
We have been pulling 12-hour days with very little down time so far. Our next stop was a much needed respite from the usual routine. We went to the nearby Silk Market which is a mall that sold everything a tourist desires. Almost everyone in the Silk Market except for the vendors were tourists. The goods were also exorbitantly priced for the trusting tourist. If you cannot barter a mean bargain, you are sure to get ripped off. Although a price is written on every product, it is generally 5-10 times higher than what it is truly worth. One of us bought a set of chopsticks that were quoted for 120 RNB ($20), but with a wily bargain, purchased it for 20 RNB ($3). Bargaining is an art and you are expected to play that game here. Two hours of shopping did wonders to the soul. We were somehow rejuvenated from the shopping spree, but also our wallets and purses felt a little lighter after the trip. We went back to our hotel rooms looking forward to tomorrow, which does not have any scheduled sightseeing. It will give us a break from the hectic daily schedule and allow us to reflect on the first few days of our trip.